Sunday, April 12, 2009

Images of America Downtown Pittsburgh by Stuart P. Boehmig

Though I don't own too many of them, I am a big fan of the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing. They provide a valuable service, namely putting out local history books with lots of pictures of what an area looked like from the age of photography right up to about the 1960s. (Whenever I am on vacation, I try to find at least one book that is a pictorial history, and Images of America is almost always there for me.)

This edition is pretty typical of the series in general. A topic is selected, in this case the downtown area of my home city, and the author arranges the photographs with small commentary at the head of each section. So for instance, here we have "The Forks of the Ohio," "Well-Known Places", "Landmark Buildings," "Immigrants, and Industry", and "Prominent Pittsburghers", to name a few of the chapters.

In addition to the section intros, Boehmig and his fellow authors provide notes for each of the pictures. That's not really necessary if you're a local--I can spot most of the scenes in the book a mile away, and I'm sure you could for your hometown--but those picking this up as a travel book are given the clues they need to understand what they're seeing. That's a nice piece for a project like the Images series, and I am glad they do it.

Those interested in Pittsburgh history will find a lot here to like. There's pictures of Market Square in transition, the original (and industrial) Golden Triangle, G. C. Murphy in its prime, the Mon Wharf before parking flooded it out of the commerce business, and even shots of the jail and courthouse before skyscrapers blocked out its sunlight.

But Boehmig doesn't just dwell on the static parts of the city. The immigrants section is full of photos of those who came to Pittsburgh from other countries, seeking a better life. (Nowadays, people leave Pittsburgh seeking a better life.) They stare, frozen in time, wondering if they made the right choice, just like we do today, except that their choice meant 14 hour days or worse in steel mills, coal mines, and other hell holes run by the industrial barons, who also get a feature in the back of the book as part of the famous people section. Others get their shot, too, including Dr. Salk and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. (I didn't plan on the shot pun for Salk, but that's too funny to take out.)

Overall, this is a great book for those who like old pictures and/or photography. If you want to have a look, there's a way to preview some of the pages here. I'd easily recommend this or any others in the Images of America series to anyone interested in the particular subject they cover.

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